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A Barcelona-Manchester United final is absolute box office. But after witnessing scenes of utter despondence at the bridge, I am not sure whether Barcelona merited a deserved place in the final. A combination of refereeing blunders, Drogba’s ineptitude in front of goal and Hiddink’s ultra conservative style made sure Chelsea bowed out in controversial circumstances. Honestly, Barcelona were really running short of ideas and were quite blunt in terms of their creativity. Of course, it is not wise to judge them over the two legs of the semi-final. But when they are deprived of space and moved out of their comfort zone, they don’t seem to have a plan B in place. They are a one-dimensional team although that style is quite attractive to many people around the world. One of the reasons that made them less imaginative was the way iniesta was asked to play. Because of Iniesta’s position, Xavi also became less influential because both of them when together are quite creative. Sergio B and Keita didn’t use the ball usefully as Iniesta, Toure and Xavi would have done. They just kept passing it around without any conviction and their first shot on target was in the 92nd minute. It was quite apparent to see that the game was played so bloody narrow that it looked like a death procession. Messi and Iniesta had come in central.

I can now type the starting line up for barca in the final.

Barcelona(4-1-2-3): Valdes; Puyol, Pique, Toure, Sylvinho/Keita; Sergio B; Iniesta, Xavi; Henry, Eto’o, Messi.

The problem with the style that Barca adopt is that the opponent runs so much off the ball that he gets tired in no time. When they eventually get the ball they are reluctant to thrust themselves to go forward as the physical demand on their bodies is extreme. There are two secrets to beat Barcelona’s passing carousel; First one is to do what United did to them in last year’s semi-final; 2. Attack them from the wings and use high energy central midfield play to disrupt their rhythm. United will mostly play Rooney on the left side with Ronaldo upfront and Park on the right with 3 defensive midfielders shielding the back four if their adopt the conservative approach. If they go for Kamikaze football, it will be a 4-3-3 with Rooney and Ronaldo the flanks and Tevez/Berba in the middle to test their suspect central defense. Playing a 4-4-2 against Barca will be ineffective because if Barca lose the ball, then there will be 3 players who will be in an advanced positions to receive the ball immediately rather than 1 or 2 which makes ball retention a bit more complicated.

Porto’s performance in the first leg of the quarter final gives amazing insights into how the game will pan out if United go hell bent for leather. But I don’t see three really physical strong forwards as Porto had. Messi and Eto’o are anything but physically imposing and add to this the fact that Xavi and Iniesta aren’t monsters either. Barca will go into the game with the simple thing in mind that tactical approach becomes simple if they retain the ball for long periods and keep passing the ball until United get tired. I think the game is going to be decided when Barca don’t have the ball. United won’t be sitting back and Fergie would demand a high octane start from Rooney and Ronaldo in particular with Anderson buzzing around in the midfield showcasing his power game in the midfield playing in an advanced role. Fergie will ask Evra to bomb upfront even though it leaves gaps behind for Messi to exploit. But this is where Fergie can win the tactical battle by playing one of his defensive midfielders constantly on the left side (Like Fletcher) to help Vidic tackle Messi and ask John O Shea to be more conservative while going forward. Attack Barca on the left while keeping the shape on the right. This would mean Rio marking Eto’o by playing in a more advanced role in defense and Fletcher and Vidic double teaming on Messi on the left and O Shea marking Henry on the left. To make Xavi and Iniesta less creative, United have to be more aggressive in the midfield and move the ball at pace. The absence of Toure in midfield will also cost Barca a tackler which will be vital to deprive Rooney and Ronaldo service on either wing.

I might be totally wrong in saying that Park won’t start. But if Park starts, then United will line up almost the same way as they did against Arsenal at Emrates (4-3-2-1) with Ronaldo up top on his own. I prefer starting with Berbatov to play behind Rooney and Ronaldo in between Xavi and Iniesta and in front of Sergio B because he is very similar in style to those three and can be a great asset to United while starting off attacks.

All this is a bit confusing as there are 4-5 ways in which United can line up which is what makes this final tough to call tactically. And my strong feeling is that they will make it a real physical battle in the midfield. Barca targeted and almost physically abused Henry in the Paris final in 2006 by kicking him all over the place. Fergie will go any distance to retain the cup this year. Thats for sure. Your thoughts please.


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